For all that, it’s still far from an obvious choice in this sector.
Mazda’s clever ‘SYYACTIV’ technology has delivered class-leading running costs. On top of that, if Mazda’s right in claiming a driving experience unequalled in this segment, then we could be looking here at a very complete contender indeed.
There are SKYACTIV powertrains, a SKYACTIV body and SKYACTIV 6-speed manual and automatic gearboxes, all of them with bulk trimmed to the minimum. As a result, it'll accelerate more quickly, stop more sharply, corner more keenly, the suspension will be able to its job more effectively and you won't be exacting such a huge demand on brakes, transmission and tyres. This Mazda is exceptionally nimble and agile for a model of its size.
This sort of response won’t come as too much of a shock, for right from the off, you feel a firmness to the ride quality that advertises future driving enjoyment.
There are basically two SKYACTIV engines, with high and low outputs in both cases. The 2. 0-litre petrol unit offers either 145 or 165PS and feels pleasingly responsive, even the lower-powered version managing 62mph from rest in 9. 5s on the way to 129mph, figures the pokier variant improves to 9. 1s and 134mph.
From the front, where the headlamps incorporate smart LEDs and neat halo ring lights, you might well guess the brand without the badges. But at the same time find yourself admiring the swooping front wings and the low, rear-leaning coupe-style cabin, with a sweeping line that slides over the C-pillar onto the short, powerful rear deck of this saloon, a bodystyle that, rather strangely, is longer than that of the alternative Tourer estate.
This is now the biggest car in its class, which makes it a little odd that the boot is one of the smaller trunks available in the segment. If you’ve heftier loads to carry, you can push forward to rear backrest which reveals up to a metre of loadspace. If the need for that kind of capacity is likely to be regular, then the Tourer estate will of course be a better bet.
The eye-catching exterior lines will probably have prompted expectations for something a little more daring and up-market than this. The driver-orientated layout that Mazda6 models have always delivered, positions everything exactly where you’d want to find it, the gearstick perfectly placed for your palm, the seat supportive, the wheel just as you’d ideally like it. I also particularly like the especially wide field of vision opened up by the re-positioning of the front A-pillars, you really notice the difference at roundabouts and coming out of junctions.
The polished aluminium touches are nice and hard plastics have been kept to a minimum. Ahead of you lie a pair of clear, purposeful dials now lit with cool white lighting and separated by a multi-information display with key fuel, temperature and trip data. Pretty much everything else you need to know is found on the infortainment colour touchscreen, a little smaller than that provided by rivals but still large enough to dominate the centre of the dash and marshalled via a rotary command dial behind the gearstick.
The Mazda6 achieves exactly what it set out to do. Namely, to stand out. It’s bigger, safer and better looking, with more equipment and better build quality. Yet it remains one of the most engaging drivers’ cars of its kind.
Some will find the ride a little over-firm and the interior isn’t the plushest in the segment. But this car isn’t far off the highest class standards. Standards that now need re-evaluation when it comes to running cost returns which here set a benchmark that will have rivals struggling.
It's not the most obvious choice in its class, but if you don't want to do the obvious thing, here's a car that won't penalise you for thinking a bit more independently. Is it better than its class rivals? On many objective bases, yes it is and Mazda deserves to be rewarded for that.